PALM BEACH GARDENS — Comments along Armwood's sideline kept pointing toward tomorrow.
Coaches spoke about how these Hawks exceeded expectations in a rebuilding year. Add to that several key players entered Friday's game at Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer battered and bruised, and in some ways there was a sense Armwood was coming up with excuses before kickoff.
A 41-15 loss would seem to validate a belief Armwood had packed it in early had it not been for a heartfelt flurry in the third quarter. Armwood recaptured its swagger and in a blink was within six points of the Panthers after trailing 21-0 at halftime.
Dwyer (13-1), which entered the game having allowed just five touchdowns all season, was stunned.
"It was the seniors, the upperclassmen," Armwood quarterback Josh Grady said. "They got us going. They knew this might be their last game and we wanted to make sure their last game was a great one."
The Hawks (12-2) showed life in the third quarter, taking their first two possessions into Dwyer territory — something they did just once in the first half while being forced to punt four times.
Grady, who showed flashes of what many anticipate to be a stellar senior season, helped jump-start the offense with his arm and feet. His 10-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Vaughn Cross in the end zone made it 21-7 in the third quarter.
After forcing a punt, Armwood capped a 55-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run by Sherman Jessie, followed by a two-point conversion pass from A.J. King to make it 21-15.
"We're a determined team," Cross said. "We had to come get it. It's either do or die. I guess the better team won, but we fought with the best effort."
In the end, the Panthers roared.
Armwood simply could not contain Gatorade Player of the Year and Florida commitment Matt Elam, who had 24 carries for 179 yards, two touchdowns and a 56-yard interception return for a score late in the fourth quarter.
"He was breaking tackles and making us miss," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "He's a very good football player, no doubt about it. We lost to a very good football team."
Grady finished 13-for-24 for 123 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
Hawks running backs Matt Jones and Rayshied Melvin were limited with just nine carries for 17 yards combined. And Theodore "Man-Man" Jackson sat out most of the game with his left foot wrapped in ice.
"I'm just proud of the way my boys played," Grady said. "I hope Dwyer hit us because we're definitely coming for them next year."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.